Meeting your match, Exhaustion.
Poetry you say?!
Nah thanks, I'd rather browse on one of those 400 billion other websites on the internet.
Well, tough. I thought I'd explain a little more about my works now they've gone into the official SHOP. What better way to illustrate art than with poetry? I have chosen a contemporary poem (that is written at the bottom) to introduce a broad theme that encompasses my practice. The unbreakable bond between the nature of the everyday and the cosmic, and how one may feed and thrive off the other.
I can recommend to you guys pages and pages and novels of THIS and THAT all I like. I get excited by passing on a good read. I want to share what I have experienced.
Maybe it was from watching the new Civilisations episode at the weekend. Maybe it was from gulping down Mary Beard's Women & Power at lunch. Maybe it was even the sweet, sweet childhood voice of Stephen Fry reading me his latest book Mythos (on audible, not irl sadly) on the way home from work.
These things culminated in this choice of poem to narrate a few ancient themes that I have been obsessed with. So obsessed with in fact I started travelling, making work and writing this blog. Granted, it's a little long, so bear with me. The mountains of HuanShan will have to wait until next week. They're not going anywhere.
The colours, the patterns, the history and the people all need to be considered when making my works. It's nice to give my pieces a minute to mull within themselves. These works (after a certain point) mature without me. They're living things. I let them get on with it. There's a range within my practice – it’s very actively everyday. It’s like a sort of virus or something, something that’s moving around. This is what I’m on the edge of exploring.
Concepts surrounding youth and experience, wealth and poverty, community and alienation are all relevant to my work.
Tiresias by Kate Tempest knits tightly together aspects of the mundane, contemporary, everyday life with a huge mythical, significant tale that encompasses these concepts. This is what makes it so fascinating.
I'm going to give you a bit of a back story, so at least you can take away something for reference, or a cheeky tidbit for the dinner table tonight if you don't actually read it (please do).
It's worth a KitKat/satsuma/cup of tea, and 10 minutes.
Kate is a spoken word poet. She has written a brilliant book called 'Hold Your Own'. It's a collection of poems, this first one here I've copied is her opening tale of the story of Tiresias.
Tiresias is the one that finds two snakes shagging in the woods and thinks it would be funny to poke them about and split them up. Hera (the one and only goddess) didn't like this, so she decided to turn him into a woman. Classic punishment for a slightly oddball crime.
Anyway, she goes about her changed life 'n that, readjusting, hugely embarrassed. She doesn't belong but she's growing, she's finding the best life for her and surviving. One day, again, a lot later in life, she tumbles upon two snakes and is turned back into a man again. Forgetting her old self, Tiresias now finds once again, a new life he can settle in to.
The story cuts to Zeus and Hera, fighting over Zeus's many infidelities. Zeus proclaims that it's fine because women get more out of sex than men do, so technically he's helping women everywhere. Obvs Hera thinks this is an outrageous statement so they both turn to Tiresias. As he has been and experienced both, his say is the final word... The final word that leads to him having his eyes gouged out and replaced with 7 lives and an ability to predict the future.
Hopefully this bit of writing will enhance the monotonous everyday for you. An emphasis on the wonderful relationship between the grand and the minute. Give it a read and let me know what you think.
Picture the scene:
A boy of fifteen.
With the usual dreams
And the usual routine.
Heading to school with a dullness inside
Borne of desires left unsatisfied.
Is he stifled or is he just
Learning the ways of his times?
Give him limbs that are awkward
But know how to climb.
Give him gait that you know.
Give him hope.
His days are painfully slow,
But he copes.
He wakes to the same old alarm.
Slumps in the shower
Like a frog in the rain.
Winks at the mirror - does cool, does charm.
Shaves soft skin.
Nods at the pain.
No hair yet. Soon though.
Last half of last night’s joint in his lips.
Bass so loud it feels like a movie.
Scuffing his trainers.
Swinging his hips.
They’re always laughing,
The kids at the bus stop.
He tries to ignore them,
But it doesn’t help.
Hood up, he walks past them.
Blowing out smoke rings,
Singing out Wu-Tang.
Into the woods, he takes the old path.
There is the rope swing,
There is the bath lying broken.
There is his name in the bark.
There are the trees,
So slim and so stark
In the thin little woodland.
Hardly a forest, The last of the green washed clean by the grey.
There is the bike chain that nobody wanted,
There is a child’s shoe
— hope they’re ok.
Out of the damp leaves and mulch in the pathway
His eye is caught by a glittering flash.
A dark moving something,
A mess of bright muscle.
Ore in a forge,
A deep, billowing gash.
Snakes. Two snakes!
Boiling and cooling
Oil in a cauldron
Foil in a river
Soil on a mood ring.
They spoil each other.
They do things
He has only dreamt of doing.
His blood’s alive inside him, fizzing.
He shuts his eyes and watches blotches
Underneath his lids for minutes.
But peaks before he knows he’s peeking.
Clutching his knees, he squats on his haunches
Watching the scales as they bounce and contort
And before he has thought he has reached out a fist
And picked up a short stick that lies near a ditch.
He swings from above
And breaks open the fortress.
The snakes, now apart,
Seem smaller, more awkward.
They flee for their love.
The boy, swaying and nauseous
Falls to the floor
More raw than before,
He feels himself shiver, contorting.
A current is coursing within him,
Shorting his circuits.
His curses are perfect
The trees bow their branches in worship.
His body’s responding to something beyond him.
Swells where before there were dips.
A crunching of muscle, the hips
Opening up, bones roaring,
Beneath them, boyhood shrinking, falling inwards.
Feeling new blood rushing.
Scuffing ankles on the forest floor
As his shape moves
His body pours itself to puddles.
He fits and starts.
He will be more than the sum of his parts.
He shakes and shouts, a screwed-up mouth.
A pain that only women know
Grabs him in the guts.
He slows to gently stuttered breaths
And slowly, with caution
She climbs to her feet.
Wipes tears from her cheeks with her sleeve.
Frowns at the trees.
How could you stay so calm?
Places a nervous palm
Against her new face, her new chest,
The new flesh of her arm.
She approaches the school gates,
She can’t face her class.
She can’t go home, not now.
She is glass
She turns and retreats.
Finds herself deep
In the smog and the heat,
The fog and the meat
Of the bodies that beat out their lives
In the throb of the street.
She learns to be small and discreet.
She learns to be thankful for all that she eats.
She learns how to smile
Without meaning an inch of it.
She learns how to swim in the stink
And not sink in it.
It’s as if this is all she has known.
Give her a face that is kind, that belongs
To a woman you know
Who is strong
And believes in the rightness of doing things wrong.
Give her a body that breathes deep at night
That is warm and unending; as total as light.
Let her live.
Brighter every day
That she was not so young and desperate.
Bigger every minute
That she settled all the restless
Urges in her chest
And when she woke from nightmares, breathless,
She would piece herself together
Like some relic found in ash and clay,
A precious, ancient necklace.
When she was complete again,
She’d wolf walk into town.
And drink down every wave that came
To break her spirits down.
She was wild and wonderful.
A star throughout the district.
A red light dreadnought.
Queen among misfits.
And yes, sometimes they sneered
When they glimpsed her in the gutter.
It made her crack her knuckles,
Shake her head and start to mutter
To herself under her breath
You posh pricks don’t know fucking shit.
And they would look away
And light their cigarettes and spit.
She liked to giggle with the pretty boys and kiss the lonely addicts
And weave exquisite curtains for the dismal little attics
Where they lay their heads at night,
Out of beads and string and plastic.
Each corner she inhabited made warmer by her magic.
She grew expert in the field
She learned to see and feel
The deepest secrets lurking in
The hearts of those who came to swim
In her darkest waters.
She knew things.
She knew Kings
And she bore daughters.
She knew love, she made her fortune.
Till she met her match.
He was an older man,
A man who liked to hold her hand
A man who made her feel like she was rolling round on golden sand.
A man as soft as any girl
A man as hard as any luck.
She understood what life was for
Each time they bucked and came unstuck.
True love takes its toll
Who are not used to feeling whole.
They tangle limbs and feel the shudders,
All the world is nothing.
Promising each other not to take the vital parts,
While even as they mutter it, they’re giving up their hearts.
It is a new moon
In late May
She gives way
To his weight
They are laid out flat by a lake.
She can feel
His blood in her veins.
He can feel
Her pulse in his wrists.
And they kiss.
And the mood hangs open and orange
Like a wound in the mist.
He asks her to marry him.
Have him forever and never be lonely but only together.
She thinks that he’s taking the piss.
Throws him a scowl so sharp his darkest parts are shafted, blasted,
ripped in hald,
She starts to laugh, she hits her palms
Against the grass. He lifts his arts, I mean it
Shining cheeks, his garments creased,
Naked skin on cold damp heath. I mean it.
Silence. Let it land.
She cannot breathe or stand.
She crawls toward him, smiling.
Takes his hand.
They kiss and both expand.
She decides she must go back,
Seek out a past.
A mother, a father,
Whatever she has.
A blessing or something,
Maybe an answer.
She packs some things and leaves at dawn, alone.
And heads out North. For home.
By dusk she’s walking the woods of her youth,
Smelling the air.
Is this where I’m from?
Who was I when I was here last?
If this isn’t home
Then where has home gone?
She sees a small learning between the trees.
She’s rocks in a river.
She’s leaves in a breeze.
There is a shopping trolley.
There are some keys
There is a hawthorn
There’s a horse chestnut
There’s a used condom
There’s an old desk lamp
There’s a nice conker…
Is that blood or ketchup?
Birds in the branches
Light in the darkness
Like sand in the toes of the bushes.
There in the path. In the leaves and the broken
Two black backs untangle, dragons.
Coupling, shuffling, grappling.
She is staggering.
Can’t stop looking. Strange unravelling.
Something from before, something forgotten.
Someone she used to be.
Some rotten something in her darkest somewhere,
Scale and danger.
Nature, sun glare.
Faint, she takes and branch and holds it
Steadies herself. Stills her shoulders.
Snakes and sex and innocence
And nothing really makes much sense.
Who was I then?
She watches awed.
And grips the branch like it’s a sword.
I should be leaving.
She breaks the branch with sudden force.
She swings the branch and knows its course:
The snakes, no chance, are soon divorced.
A sudden dark and squelching tension.
She panics, sweats, can’t breathe. Head pounds.
Her body writes and juts.
The image of her lover’s face
Begins to shake and wilt and fade,
She loses him, there, in the shade.
It hurts. She’s felt this once before.
She knows this pain, this change, this awe.
She feels herself retract and harden.
Feels her bones enlarging,
She’s old milk bursting from its carton.
Shaken, floored, a body heaving
Writing, smiling, something’s pleasing,
Finding her throat open, screaming,
Hoarse and full of light
Her body stops. She feels his might.
His veins thicken in intense delight.
A man again.
He stands, confused.
And walks away.
Too much to lose.
This poor once-boy, sudden-woman,
Who’d lived so long and done so well
And kept so much so deeply hidden,
Now found himself before the bell
Of some new door in some new town.
The pain of new beginnings.
Everything that went before
Gushed in him.
Smash the cup and let it happen.
A full grown human.
Moves on from what he cannot fathom.
He swears his past will not consume him.
And so that man with many pasts
Matures into his present,
But he feels his waters move
In the last arc of the crescent,
And as the moon expands to full
He feels his blood respond,
But as all humans know to do,
He holds it in
And soldiers on.
Imagine how it feels
To walk so far away from life and love,
To know that all you’ve known
No longer enough.
All the blood they’d bled,
All the children they had borne,
All the mouths their mouths had met,
Behind them now.
He staggers knee-deep through his pity
Sadness grabs his shins.
A stranger in a strangers’ city,
Where new strangeness begins.
In distant god terrain,
Mount Olympus, pink and milky,
Zeus and Hera fight again,
Raw and honest, foul and filthy,
Hera with her eyes screwed up
I swear you’re out to kill me.
She weeps and screams and he enjoys
The feeling of his power.
He froths and paces, thunders, pleads;
Tempers frayed, their bodies need
A break from fighting -
But none comes.
Not after this - another tongue
Roasted in his total blaze.
Surprise surprise, old Zeus has strayed.
The fighting carries on for days.
Down on Earth the weather’s mental.
Hurricanes and ancient heat.
Sudden freezes ice the deserts.
Rain leaves craters in concrete.
Hera’s ripping up her dresses.
— Am I not enough for you?
Zeus is melted, stares intently
— Sister, you are all I love.
— Then why?
— Because these others tempt me.
And unlike you, I lack the guts
To turn away and know my path.
Hera swigs straight from the cask,
The nectar’s strong and soothes her heart.
She sighs in disbelief, don’t start.
Zeus, bored of being wrong and sorry,
Puffs his chest up, shows his might.
Hera knows his godly body
Well enough to not take fright.
I don’t know what the fuss is for
Zeus begins, playing wounded.
Women like it more than Men.
I don’t even want to do it.
What you get from me is more
Than what I get from you.
Red rag to a Minotaur.
What? says Zeus. It’s true.
They row like it’s a holy war,
The Earth suffers their anger.
Finally, when neither has
The strength to raise the anchor
And the ship of their relations
Is broken-keeled and sinking,
And they’re fighting over what the other
Might have just been thinking,
They stop for ragged breaths.
The sky is bruised and black.
Hera won’t be pacified
Until he takes it back.
Tiresias, at peace at last,
Is older now than ever,
He’s found a lovely partner
And they’ve made a life together.
He won’t walk the woods along;
He’ll only walk the heath.
He blanks out all the lives he’s known,
But they survive beneath.
He’s started doing pottery.
He’s joined the local choir.
If he thinks about his history
His heart is set on fire.
There’s no way back,
There is no track
That leads to his past lives.
He sets himself on forwards.
And he loves.
And he survives.
His lover is a gentle man,
Together they are free.
They enjoy each other
I love him. And he loves me.
But on dark days he likes to walk
Beside the heartsick sea.
And as the waves begin to howl
He drops down to his knees,
And cries for all he’s lost
And for all he used to be.
Zeus - in final stage of fury -
Beats his massive fists
Against the stormy clouds
And says - there’s only one who can fix this.
Tiresias is home alone,
His partner’s out all day;
He teaches in the local school
Good students but shit pay.
The weather’s turning nasty
The house rattles and moans.
The door’s ripped from its hinges
And Tiresias is thrown.
The house is filled with storm clouds
Rain smashes at his cheeks
He is too shocked to recognise
That this is how god speaks.
Suddenly the storm abates
The house is filled with sun
Zeus, in his human form,
Sticks up a golden thumb,
Tiresias is terrified.
He can barely speak.
Zeus nods in recognition.
Swans in, takes a seat.
Look, me and Hera
Are having this domestic,
Pathetic - I know.
But that’s what’s to be expected
From an eternity of marriage.
You’re my only hope.
And Zeus takes him by the hand
—might as well have been the throat —
And ascends the mount Olympus
And dumps him before the queen.
Here’s the guy to settle it.
Tiresias has been
Man and woman both.
So ask him — who enjoys it more?
A woman or a man?
Tiresias is stunned
But wants to help them if he can.
His mind begins to shudder,
Every kiss comes back to bite him.
His body buckles under
The old echoes of excitement.
He sees every time his open mouth has yelled,
All tongue and teeth,
He sees the necks and backs and legs,
His rising chest, his blushing cheeks.
He remembers after sex,
The woman he once was,
Lying in her happiness
Like nothing had been lost.
He thinks of how he finds it now,
Spent and drained and breathing deep.
The agony that follows.
The desperate need for sleep.
He feels it moving like a hand
Across his shaking thighs.
He takes his time and works it out,
And slowly he describes:
If you could split sexual
Pleasure into tenths,
Women would get nine.
That leaves just one
In that way he does.
And Hera feels the boiling of her blood.
She, in rage and consternation,
Screams towards Tiresias
Takes the eyes out from his head
And leaves him blind and sore and red.
And gore is pouring forth before them all.
His arms are spread.
he wishes with his broken heart
He could be someone else instead.
Zeus is shocked, appalled, impressed.
Mate he says Ah mate.
Tiresias knows better
Than to howl and remonstrate
But his swollen eyeballs roll in dried;
His face is aged with pain.
Zeus, still reeling from his victory,
Accepts it is a shame.
What one god has done,
No other god can undo.
I can’t give you back your eyes
But I can give you something new.
Zeus lays a mighty palm
Against the bloody sockets
And floods the body’s blindness
With the inner sight of prophets.
Tiresias was melted,
But inside the vision grew.
A weakness in his legs,
A sobbing emptiness, shot through
With some new tenderness,
And calm uncurling in his guts.
He staggered like a child pretending blindness,
Hands out in the dark.
But couldn’t close his eyes to what exploded in his heart.
He could see the truth of things
He couldn’t look away.
Nothing left but to accept,
He had been born to live this day.
And so, with face streaked warpaint red,
And every sense burnt white with pain,
He was given seven lifetimes
And dropped back down to Earth again.
A whole life lived
At the mercy of the fates.
here he comes again,
The old seer with the shakes.
Wheeled on to mutter prophecy,
Chased off by angry kings.
Tiresias, you lived for more
Than what the legend sings.
Tiresias - you’ve lost
Everyone you ever loved.
But you stand beneath
The cruelty of the sun that burns above
And you offer only toothless grins
For all that you have seen.
Tiresias, you hold your own.
Each you that you have been.
You walk mong us, slow,
A ragged crow,
With breath to blow,
In which we’ll see a truth
That we’ll wish we didn’t know.
You’re the crazy on the corner
Old, and smelling weird
Queuing for electric
With bird bones in your beard.
You stagger on regardless,
Swaying in the street
Summoning an oracle
That can’t be arsed to meet.
While we assemble selves online
And stare into our phones,
You are bright and terrifying,
Breath and flesh and bone.
Tiresias — you teach us
What it means: to hold your own.